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Week in Review January 8, 2024

Updated: Jan 9


Ohio statehouse government affairs week in review January 2023


This report reflects the latest happenings in government relations, in and around the Ohio statehouse. You’ll notice that it’s broad in nature and on an array of topics, from A-Z. This will be updated on a weekly basis.

Please feel free to share it with anyone else you believe may find it of interest, as well. Also, please do not hesitate to contact us should you have any questions, concerns or if we can be of any assistance.



ADDICTION/SUBSTANCE ABUSE


The Office of Criminal Justice Services (OCJS) announced it is accepting applications for local drug task force funding to be awarded as part of the Ohio Drug Law Enforcement Fund. The fund is part of the Drug Interdiction, Disruption, and Reduction Plan that is funded through Ohio's two-year operating budget. Grants will cover drug task force expenses related to enforcing the state's drug laws and combating illegal drug activity. Funds can be used by agencies to investigate drug trafficking organizations and to disrupt the drug supply through intelligence gathering, information sharing, and multi-agency coordination. Grants can also be used to support local work to help drug overdose victims and their families through education, support and treatment options. Applications are due Thursday, Feb. 8, 2024 at 5 p.m. Projects may apply for up to 12 months operating from July 1, 2024 to June 30, 2025.


AGRICULTURE


The Ohio Department of Agriculture (ODAg) extended the enrollment deadline for H2Ohio producers in the 14 counties of the Maumee River Watershed. The department commented, "Due to a considerable amount of interest during the current signup period, farmers now have until [Friday,] Feb. 2, 2024, to enroll.”

ATTORNEY GENERAL


The Ohio Attorney General's Office says use-of-force investigations by its Bureau of Identification and Investigation (BCII) flatlined at 58 officer-involved critical incidents (OICI) last year -- one less than 2022 and down significantly from 69 investigations in 2021. Local and county law enforcement agencies have sole jurisdiction over their officer use of force investigations but can request an independent probe by BCII, a centralized approach to police accountability that some observers say should be normative.


Gun crime fell in six of Ohio's eight largest cities following enactment of constitutional carry law 134-SB215 (Johnson) but rose 5-6 percent in Cincinnati and Dayton, reports the Center for Justice Research, a partnership of the Ohio Attorney General's Office and Bowling Green State University (BGSU). Attorney General Dave Yost released a 22-page study for the period June 2021-June 2023 to compare the 12 months before and 12 months following SB215's effective date of June 13, 2022, when Ohio became the 23rd state to enact permitless concealed carry. Crime involving firearms saw single- to double-digit declines in Parma (-22 percent), Toledo and Akron (-18 percent), Columbus (-12 percent), Cleveland (-6 percent) and Canton (-5 percent), though gun incidents in Dayton and Cincinnati increased more than 6 percent and 5 percent, respectively.


AUDITOR OF STATE


The Auditor of State's Special Investigations Unit Thursday, Jan. 4 executed a search warrant related to ongoing investigations of Eastern Gateway Community College (EGCC) in Steubenville, Ohio Auditor Keith Faber announced. Faber's office executed the search warrant in conjunction with the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office, the Ohio State Highway Patrol's Computer Crimes Unit, the U.S. Secret Service, the Coumbus Division of Police's Digital Forensics Unit, and the Ohio Narcotics Intelligence Center. The search warrant is "part of an investigation looking into matters that both have already been charged and are being prosecuted by our special prosecutors, and other concerns about financial irregularities here at the college," Faber said in a recorded statement.


BALLOT ISSUES


Backers of a proposed "Secure and Fair Elections" constitutional amendment that would guarantee a right to vote in the Ohio Constitution said they plan to refile their petition after it was rejected by Attorney General Dave Yost, and are aiming to get it before voters in November. The proposal would guarantee a person who is a U.S. citizen, at least 18 years of age by the date of the election, an Ohio resident, and registered to vote in their county of residence the right to vote. It would also enshrine certain voting procedures in the Ohio Constitution, including in-person voting, military and overseas absentee ballots, early in-person voting for at least 28 days before the election including the Monday before the election, automatic voter registration, same-day voting registration and registration changes, and no-excuse absentee voting. Yost rejected the first submission of the proposal, saying his office "identified omissions and misstatements that, as a whole, would mislead a potential signer as to the actual scope and effect of the proposed amendment."


FY25-26 CAPITAL APPROPRIATIONS


The House is starting work on the capital budget much earlier than the Senate, both chambers' finance chairs told Hannah News. House members are being asked to submit community projects by Wednesday, Jan. 10, 2024, House Finance Committee Chair Jay Edwards (R-Nelsonville) said. Meanwhile, Senate Finance Chair Matt Dolan (R-Chagrin Falls) said Senate proposals are due by Monday, April 8. The operating budget, HB33 (Edwards), included $700 million for a One Time Strategic Community Investments Fund that will be used as part of the capital budget. "It's kind of a different capital budget with this mega fund, or super duper fund. ... We're getting a ton of questions about it. We're getting a ton of interest from around the state, which is good," Edwards said, noting community leaders' proposals were due to the House by Monday, Dec. 18. Dolan said the Senate's timeline is also due to the $700 million in community project funding included in HB33.


CORONAVIRUS/MONKEYPOX


COVID-19 numbers rose in the Ohio Department of Health (ODH) update Thursday, the first one of the year covering the seven days from Dec. 29, 2023 to Jan. 4, 2024. Specific increases included the following:


  • 15,046 cases, compared to 14,814 reported on Dec. 28.

  • 629 hospitalizations, compared to 502 on Dec. 28.

  • 25 ICU admissions, compared to 23 on Dec. 28.

  • 52 deaths, compared to 50 on Dec. 28.

CORRECTIONS


More businesses should consider employing the approximately 18,000 individuals who leave Ohio prisons every year, Gov. Mike DeWine said Thursday. "It's important for us to work with everybody who is in prison, because most of them are coming out, and they're coming back into society. How well they do when they get back out affects all of us," DeWine said during the Second Chance Symposium in Cincinnati. The governor said his family gave a formerly incarcerated man a chance to work for their seed business in Yellow Springs when he was growing up, and he spent time with "Shorty" while they were both working there.


ECONOMY


Ohio's minimum wage increased Jan. 1, 2024 to $10.45 per hour for non-tipped employees and $5.25 per hour for tipped employees. The minimum wage applies to employees of businesses with annual gross receipts of more than $385,000 per year. The 2023 minimum wage was $10.10 per hour for non-tipped employees and $5.05 per hour for tipped employees. The 2023 Ohio minimum wage applied to employees of businesses with annual gross receipts of more than $372,000.


The Ohio Department of Job and Family Services (ODJFS) announced before the holidays that Ohio's unemployment rate for November was 3.6 percent, unchanged from October, as the state lost 5,300 jobs over the month. ODJFS said unemployment went from a revised 5,658,600 in October to 5,653,300 in November. The number of workers unemployed in Ohio in November was 212,000, up from 207,000 in October. The number of unemployed has decreased by 25,000 in the past 12 months from 237,000. The November unemployment rate for Ohio decreased 0.5 percent from 4.1 percent in November 2022. The U.S. unemployment rate for November 2023 was 3.7 percent, down from 3.9 percent in October 2023 and up from 3.6 percent in November 2022.


For the second straight year, economist Bill LaFayette is predicting job growth will fall under the national average for Central Ohio, citing workforce and housing issues as potential barriers. LaFayette delivered his annual "Blue Chip Economic Forecast" to the Columbus Metropolitan Club Wednesday, and also participated in a panel discussion with Ben Ayers, a senior economist with Nationwide Insurance, and Joyce Chen, a professor of economics and women's, gender and sexuality studies at Ohio State University, which was moderated by Columbus Dispatch business reporter Mark Williams.


EDUCATION


Across a career that spanned the classroom, coaching, principalships and district administration, Steve Dackin says he's wanted to have a broader impact on student lives. As inaugural director of Ohio's new K-12 governance hierarchy, he now has the task of aligning efforts to get more children to read proficiently and to be better equipped to decide their futures, among other priorities. "When I was talking to the governor, I said, I don't need a job. I'm an old guy. But all my life I've tried to make a difference, and that's why I wanted ... this opportunity. I wanted to be a difference maker," Dackin told Hannah News in an interview on his background and his goals as director of the Ohio Department of Education and Workforce (DEW). Lawmakers remade the Ohio Department of Education (ODE) into DEW in the biennial budget, HB33 (Edwards), converting it into a cabinet agency reporting to Gov. Mike DeWine rather than to the State Board of Education. The board and state superintendent retain oversight of licensure and discipline for professional educators, but the bulk of other education policy and administrative functions now rest with Dackin.


School districts and families suing the state over the constitutionality of Ohio's EdChoice program cannot call Senate President Matt Huffman (R-Lima) in for a deposition -- at least for now -- but may pose questions to him in writing. The coalition Vouchers Hurt Ohio is challenging the program on the grounds that it violates the Ohio Constitution's requirement for a "common" schools system and the prohibition against giving control of education funding to religious sects. A collection of families whose children use EdChoice vouchers to attend school have intervened to defend the program alongside the state. As part of the lawsuit, plaintiffs sought to depose Huffman, a longtime supporter of vouchers who's shepherded through expansions of EdChoice as Senate leader. Huffman in turn filed a motion to quash the subpoena, citing the legislative privilege established in Article II, Section 12 of the Ohio Constitution, which holds that lawmakers "shall not be questioned elsewhere" for legislative speech and debate. His attorneys also noted numerous other sources of information on legislative deliberations are available, making it unnecessary to question the Senate president.


ELECTIONS 2024


Gov. Mike DeWine on Thursday announced special election dates for the 6th Congressional District's upcoming vacancy. U.S. Rep. Bill Johnson (R-Marietta) told the governor he plans to resign his seat on Sunday, Jan. 21 to become president of Youngstown State University. The special congressional primary will occur on Tuesday, March 19, which is the same date as the previously scheduled statewide presidential primary election. The special congressional general election will then take place on Tuesday, June 11.


The former occupant of an Ohio House seat who was forced out after a criminal conviction, Steven Kraus, now seeks to regain that seat by defeating the current occupant in next year's Republican primary. He filed for the 89th House District seat before the filing deadline. Meanwhile, Rep. Mike Skindell (D-Lakewood) announced he will not seek re-election to his 13th House District seat despite his filing candidacy petitions.


Sen. Niraj Antani (R-Miamisburg) announced his campaign for the 2nd Congressional District has raised $612,348 in the 38 days since he announced his candidacy. Fundraising numbers for federal candidates in the last three months of 2023 are due Monday, Jan. 15, though some candidates announce their totals earlier. Antani said his report will show he raised $612,348 from his announcement on Nov. 14 through Dec. 31. He said the total does not include any self-funding.


Vanessa Joy, the only Democrat seeking the 50th House District seat, will not be on the primary ballot after the candidate's petition was disqualified by the Stark County Board of Elections. According to the Canton Repository, Joy had enough valid signatures on her petition, but had legally changed her name in 2022 and did not include her former name on her petitions. Ohio law requires anyone who has changed names during the past five years for any reason to include his or her former name on the petitions. Joy, who is transgender, told the newspaper that she didn't know she had to include her former name and will seek more information from the board of elections.


The following endorsements were made over the week:


  • Club for Growth PAC endorsed Republican Bernie Moreno for U.S. Senate.

  • The U.S. Senate campaign of Republican Bernie Moreno announced the endorsement of the Madison County Republican Party.

ENVIRONMENT


Five communities recently were awarded a total of $3.75 million in Residential Public Infrastructure Grant funding for improvements to their local water and wastewater treatment facilities, according to an announcement from Gov. Mike DeWine and Ohio Department of Development Director Lydia Mihalik. The second round of grants, funded through the federal Community Development Block Grant (CDBG), will allow these communities to improve their provision of safe and reliable drinking water and proper disposal of sanitary waste for more than 12,500 residents.


FEDERAL


Former assistant U.S. Attorney Mark Bennett of Westlake has been hit with a two-year, fully stayed suspension of his law license for sexually harassing a 24-year-old intern. Chief Justice Sharon Kennedy and Justice Joe Deters did not join in the Ohio Supreme Court's majority opinion. The 10-year assistant U.S. attorney resigned from the office's Northern District of Ohio in 2020 after the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) found he had violated its sexual harassment policy. The lead opinion found 4-2 that Bennett had violated the bar's professional ethics through apparent, unwanted advances on first-year law student J.S., including inappropriate touching, comments and voyeurism.


GAMING/GAMBLING


Ohioans placed $864.2 million in sports bets in November 2023, the second highest handle since the first month of legal sports gambling. January 2023's total was $1.1 billion. Sports bettors wagered $746.4 million in October 2023, $690.4 million in September 2023, $378.8 million in August 2023, $331.1 million in July 2023, $362.1 million in June 2023, $446.2 million in May 2023, $520.6 million in April 2023, $737.2 million in March 2023 and $639.1 million in February 2023. Taxable revenue for November 2023 was $68.2 million, down from October 2023's total of $80.6 million.


GENERAL ASSEMBLY/STATEHOUSE


As lawmakers consider an override of Gov. Mike DeWine's recent veto of transgender care and sports restrictions in HB68 (Click), the House confirmed Tuesday it will convene the tentatively scheduled session set for Wednesday, Jan. 10 session, along with a Tuesday, Jan. 9 House Rules and Reference Committee meeting to set the calendar. In addition to action on next week's date, the House cancelled the if-needed Wednesday, Jan. 24 session, but confirmed it will convene the if-needed Wednesday, Feb. 7 session.


State Rep. Mary Lightbody (D-Westerville), who represents the 4th Ohio House District, Wednesday announced she will resign her seat in the Ohio House at the end of the day on Tuesday, Jan. 9, saying she intends to move out of state to spend more time with her family. The Ohio House Democratic Caucus is requesting letters of interest from those who seek appointment to represent the 4th Ohio House District and to serve out the remainder of Lightbody's term, which runs through December 2024. Applicants should email resumes and cover letters to House Democratic Caucus Chief of Staff Jordan Plottner at jordan.plottner@ohiohouse.gov by the close of business on Monday, Jan. 8.


GOVERNOR


Parents -- not the government -- should decide whether their children should receive gender-affirming care from medical providers, Gov. Mike DeWine said after vetoing HB68 (Click) on Friday. "Ultimately, I believe this is about protecting human life," DeWine told reporters. "Parents have looked me in the eye, and have told me that but for this treatment, their child would be dead," he said. "They've told me that their child is only alive because of the gender-affirming care that they have received. And youth that have transitioned to a new gender have told me that they are thriving today because of that transition." The legislation would have restricted gender-affirming care for minors and banned transgender women and girls from participating in women's and girls' school sports. The General Assembly passed HB68 earlier in December.


The governor signed the following bills into law on Thursday, Dec. 28. Both become effective in 90 days after signing:


  • SB91 (Schaffer) amends sections of the Ohio Revised Code regarding fraud, waste, and abuse of public funds and to prohibit the expenditure of local tax revenues upon a vote of residents or without an appropriation.

  • HB201 (Hillyer-Demetriou) prohibits a state agency, county, or township from restricting the sale or use of a motor vehicle based on the energy source used to power the motor vehicle; prohibits a state agency from adopting the California emissions standards for motor vehicles; and changes the requirements for natural gas company infrastructure development riders and economic development projects.

The governor vetoed the following bill:


  • HB68 (Click) enacts the Saving Ohio Adolescents from Experimentation (SAFE) Act regarding gender transition services for minors, and enacts the Save Women's Sports Act to require schools, state institutions of higher education, and private colleges to designate separate single-sex teams and sports for each sex.

Appointments made recently include the following:


  • Dennis M. Kirk of Hillsboro (Highland County) to the Southern State Community College Board of Trustees for a term beginning Dec. 22, 2023, and ending May 11, 2028.

  • Traci L. Martinez of Columbus (Franklin County) to the Columbus State Community College Board of Trustees for a term beginning Dec. 22, 2023, and ending Aug. 31, 2029; and Lorina W. Wise of Reynoldsburg (Licking County) for a term ending Aug. 31, 2025.

  • Karen Soehnlen McQueen of Canton (Stark County) to the Northeast Ohio Medical University Board of Trustees for a term beginning Dec. 22, 2023, and ending Sept. 21, 2031.

  • John Banchy of Cincinnati (Butler County), Javan Brown of Columbus (Franklin County), Molly E. Dible of Findlay (Hancock County), Isabel R. Ganz of Cincinnati (Hamilton County), Kari Dykes Jones of Columbus (Franklin County), Monica A. McCain of Toledo (Lucas County) and Annette L. Wood of Akron (Summit County) reappointed to the Ohio Developmental Disabilities Council for terms beginning Jan. 1, 2024, and ending Dec. 31, 2026. Appointed to the council for the same term are Noriko Kantake of Athens (Athens County), Jason E. Hill of Hilliard (Franklin County) and Latisha B. Martin of Dayton (Montgomery County). Designated council chair is Jennifer M. Kucera of Berea (Cuyahoga County).

  • David M. Bass of Copley (Summit County) and Semanthie B. Brooks of Macedonia (Summit County) reappointed to the Ohio Advisory Council for Aging for terms beginning Dec. 22, 2023, and ending Nov. 21, 2026. In addition, Stephanie Garrett of West Alexandria (Preble County) reappointed for a term beginning Nov. 6, 2023, and ending Nov. 21, 2025 and the following have been appointed: Timothy P. Bete of Beavercreek (Greene County) and Yuvette M. Bozman of Moreland Hills (Cuyahoga County) for terms beginning Dec. 22, 2023, and ending Nov. 21, 2025.

  • Arianna Galligher of Columbus (Franklin County), Callie Mitchell of Columbus (Franklin County), Tonya K. Schaeffer of Loveland (Clermont County), Alverta E. Muhammad of Columbus (Franklin County) and James G. Minikowski of Solon (Cuyahoga County) reappointed to the Counselor, Social Worker, and Marriage and Family Therapist Board for terms beginning Dec. 22, 2023, and ending Oct. 10, 2026.

  • Lesley A. Linn of Galloway (Franklin County) reappointed to the Chemical Dependency Professionals Board for a term beginning Dec. 24, 2023, and ending Dec. 23, 2026.

  • Wendy K. Jennings of Bryan (Williams County) reappointed and Rachel M. Undercoffer of Kent (Portage County) appointed to the State Board of Psychology for terms beginning Dec. 22, 2023, and ending Oct. 4, 2028.

  • Joseph E. Quackenbush of Newark (Licking County) and Barbara J. Wadsworth of Brunswick (Medina County) reappointed and Brenton S. Temple of Columbus (Franklin County) appointed to the Board of Nursing for terms beginning Jan. 1, 2024, and ending Dec. 31, 2027.

  • Ademola O. Solaru of Pepper Pike (Cuyahoga County) and Prince F. Ellis of Cincinnati (Clermont County) appointed to the New African Immigrants Commission for terms beginning Dec. 22, 2023, and ending Oct. 7, 2025 while Elizabeth W. Waruiru of Columbus (Franklin County), Farxaan Jeyte of Westerville (Franklin County) and Hassan Omar of Westerville (Franklin County) appointed for terms beginning Dec. 22, 2023, and ending Oct. 7, 2026. Comfort Cole-Kenneh of Gahanna (Franklin County) reappointed for a term beginning Dec. 22, 2023, and ending Oct. 7, 2026.

  • Manuel Lopez Ramirez of Springfield (Clark County) reappointed to the Commission on Hispanic-Latino Affairs for a term beginning Dec. 22, 2023, and ending Oct. 7, 2026.

  • Elizabeth B. McCormick of Columbus (Franklin County) reappointed to the Ohio Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday Commission for a term beginning Dec. 31, 2023, and ending Dec. 30, 2026. Christina Rodriguez of Toledo (Lucas County) designated to serve as chair of the commission effective Dec. 22, 2023.

  • Ed Anderson of Painesville (Lake County), DeAnna Holliday of Ironton (Lawrence County), Brooke M. Burns of Columbus (Franklin County), Kathleen S. Lenski of Miamisburg (Montgomery County), Christina Shoemaker of Columbus (Franklin County), Jill N. Tayfel of Brecksville (Cuyahoga County), Stiney Vonderhaar of Cincinnati (Hamilton County) and Emily Wampler of Columbus (Franklin County) reappointed to the Governor's Council on Juvenile Justice for terms beginning Dec. 22, 2023, and ending Oct. 31, 2026. David E. Stucki of Brewster (Stark County) reappointed chair of the council for a term beginning Dec. 22, 2023, and ending Oct. 31, 2026.

  • Leah R. Amstutz of Richwood (Union County) and James J. Fitsko of Marion (Marion County) reappointed to the Ohio Peace Officer Training Commission for terms beginning Dec. 22, 2023, and ending Sept. 20, 2026.

  • Teri L. LaJeunesse of Xenia (Greene County) reappointed to the Ohio Criminal Sentencing Commission for a term beginning Dec. 22, 2023, and ending Aug. 21, 2027.

  • Judy C. Wolford of Ashville (Pickaway County) reappointed to the Ohio Organized Crime Investigations Commission for a term beginning Dec. 22, 2023, and ending Sept. 3, 2026.

  • Ronald J. Myers of Scio (Harrison County), Andrew D. Powers of Athens (Athens County), Adrienne J. Sheffer of Mount Vernon (Knox County) and Bradford L. Shull of Baltimore (Fairfield County) appointed to the MARCS Steering Committee for terms beginning Dec. 22, 2023, and continuing at the pleasure of the governor.

  • Charles W. Dixon of Granville (Licking County) and John W. Finley of McConnelsville (Morgan County) reappointed to the State Fire Council for terms beginning Dec. 22, 2023, and ending Nov. 1, 2028.

  • Shayla L. Davis of Garfield Heights (Cuyahoga County) appointed to the Ohio Elections Commission for a term beginning Dec. 22, 2023, and ending Dec. 31, 2027.

  • Joseph R. Lemon of McConnelsville (Morgan County) appointed to the Ohio Commission on Service and Volunteerism for a term beginning Dec. 22, 2023, and ending April 21, 2025.

  • Sean W. Campbell of Westlake (Cuyahoga County) appointed to the Ohio Housing Finance Agency for a term beginning Dec. 22, 2023, and ending Jan. 31, 2029.

  • Lauren O. Bakaletz of Hilliard (Franklin County) reappointed to the Third Frontier Commission for a term beginning Dec. 22, 2023, and ending April 1, 2026. In addition, Brian T. Faust of Springboro (Warren County) appointed for a term beginning Dec. 22, 2023, and ending April 1, 2025 and David Luketic of Columbus (Franklin County) appointed for a term beginning Dec. 22, 2023, and ending April 1, 2026.

  • Marge Barnheiser of Hilliard (Franklin County), Jennifer A. Cunningham of Worthington (Franklin County) and Charles H. Gerhardt III of Cincinnati (Hamilton County) reappointed to the STABLE Account Program Advisory Board for terms beginning Jan. 1, 2024, and ending Dec. 31, 2027. In addition, Derek L. Graham of Dublin (Franklin County) Timothy M. Rieder of Mount Vernon (Knox County) Gary A. Tonks of Hilliard (Franklin County) appointed for the same terms.

  • Thomas F. Needles of Whitehall (Franklin County) reappointed to the Motor Vehicle Dealers Board for a term beginning Dec. 22, 2023, and ending Oct. 4, 2026.

  • Michael Wise of Chagrin Falls (Cuyahoga County) reappointed to the Oil and Gas Land Management Commission for a term beginning Dec. 22, 2023, and ending Sept. 29, 2028.

  • Douglas S. Fisher of Lancaster (Fairfield County), Robert J. Friedman III of Powell (Franklin County) and Mark A. Miller of Bay Village (Cuyahoga County) reappointed to the Radiation Advisory Council for terms beginning Dec. 22, 2023, and ending Sept. 6, 2028.

  • Timothy A. Fulks of Findlay (Hancock County) appointed to the Sewage Treatment System Technical Advisory Committee for a term beginning Dec. 1, 2023, and ending Dec. 31, 2024 and Ryan R. Gierhart of Weston (Wood County) appointed for a term beginning Dec. 1, 2023, and ending Dec. 31, 2025.

  • Geoffrey M. Bishop of Westerville (Delaware County) reappointed to the Ohio Fair Plan Underwriting Association Board of Governors for a term beginning Dec. 22, 2023, and ending Sept. 18, 2025.

  • Steven P. Regoli of Worthington (Franklin County) reappointed to the Board of Building Appeals for a term beginning Dec. 1, 2023, and ending Oct. 13, 2027.

  • Jeffrey E. Samuelson of Cincinnati (Hamilton County), John Johnson of Westerville (Delaware County) and Jeffrey S. Tyler of Springfield (Clark County) reappointed to the Board of Building Standards for terms beginning Dec. 1, 2023, and ending Oct. 13, 2027.

GREAT LAKES 

Results from Lake Erie trawl surveys revealed that walleye hatches were "exceptional" but yellow perch hatches were below average in 2023, according to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) Division of Wildlife. "Based on these results, anglers can continue to expect many years of remarkable walleye fishing," ODNR Division of Wildlife Chief Kendra Wecker said. "The Walleye Capital of the World will have great fishing for years to come thanks to another favorable hatch." Although the yellow perch hatch was below the long-term average, anglers in the Western Basin of Lake Erie can expect some seasonally good fishing for yellow perch during the summer of 2024. 


HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES


 The Ohio Department of Health (ODH) Friday reported the state's first flu-associated pediatric death of the 2023-24 flu season, a 9-year-old girl from Clermont County. Clermont County Public Health is investigating the death. According to the department, "Flu activity usually peaks between December and February. In Ohio, flu activity has been increasing since early December and current activity is high. Since the start of the season, over 900 influenza-associated hospitalizations have been reported in Ohio, which is below the five-year average for this time in the season.” 


Researchers at Ohio State University (OSU) were surprised when they began exploring whether early-life stress compounds the effects of a childhood head injury on health and behavior later in life. In an animal study, they found stress changed the activation level of many more genes in the brain than were changed by a bump to the head. Head injuries are common in young kids, especially from falling, and can be linked to mood disorders and social difficulties that emerge later in life. Adverse childhood experiences are also very common, and can raise risk for disease, mental illness and substance misuse in adulthood. 


Ohio Sobriety Treatment and Reducing Trauma (Ohio START), a program to help stabilize families struggling with substance abuse, has become the first such program in the nation to receive national certification from Children and Family First (CFF), Gov. Mike DeWine announced. Ohio START helps bring together public children services agencies and caseworkers, behavioral health providers and family peer mentors to help families struggling with child maltreatment and substance use disorder.


 HOUSING/HOMELESSNESS 


The Ohio Housing Finance Agency (OHFA) recently approved the plan for how the value of $50 million in new single family housing tax credits will be divided among types of communities. The agency also filed a third draft of its rules with lawmakers, in the process dropping an income floor requirement for potential residents of the new housing, as requested by some advocates. In addition, OHFA released Thursday for public comment the proposed underwriting standards for the new tax credit. The biennial budget, HB33 (Edwards), included Gov. Mike DeWine's proposal to create the new Single Family Tax Credit as a way to boost housing development. 


HUMAN SERVICES 


The Ohio Department of Public Safety's (DPS) Office of Criminal Justice Services (OCJS) has announced nearly $4 million in new Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) grants to help local governments and nonprofits support victims of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking. OCJS is awarding 135 federal grants to 97 agencies in 45 counties for FFY23, including programs that provide "culturally relevant and linguistically specific services" to culturally specific communities.


 JUDICIAL 


The Ohio Supreme Court has been left with the task of determining state mandates for firing public school teachers. At the center of the recent oral argument is the question whether instructors must attend their "formal observation" and whether the answer is controlled by the Ohio Teacher Evaluation System (OTES), its interpretation at the Ohio Department of Education and Workforce (DEW), a local collective bargaining agreement, and/or the Ohio Revised Code "liberally construed" in favor of teachers. The high court considered all those claims in Shawn Jones v. Kent City School District Board of Education, which follows a 20-year veteran of the district before he was placed on a limited contract for 2019-2020, accrued a number of unexcused absences, and was put on an evaluation cycle that ended in his missing the third and final formal observation and calling off sick for three weeks at the 2020 onset of COVID-19 and passage of teacher evaluation changes in 133-HB197 (Powell-Merrin) 


Special commissions that decide the fate of Ohio Supreme Court justices, judges and judicial candidates accused of Ohio Supreme Court rules violations are facing possible changes in the new year to acknowledge the partisan political realities of modern court races and judicial officeholders. The Court has opened public comment on proposed changes to Rules for the Government of the Judiciary of Ohio regulating five-judge commissions that hear ethics charges against judges, justices and judicial candidates. Public comment on proposed changes to Rules 2 and 3 must be submitted in writing before Monday, Jan. 29, 2024 to Chief Legal Counsel John VanNorman, Supreme Court of Ohio, 65 S. Front St., 7th Fl., Columbus 43215, or to ruleamendments@sc.ohio.gov


Former assistant U.S. Attorney Mark Bennett of Westlake has been hit with a two-year, fully stayed suspension of his law license for sexually harassing a 24-year-old intern. Chief Justice Sharon Kennedy and Justice Joe Deters did not join in the Ohio Supreme Court's majority opinion. The 10-year assistant U.S. attorney resigned from the office's Northern District of Ohio in 2020 after the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) found he had violated its sexual harassment policy. The lead opinion found 4-2 that Bennett had violated the bar's professional ethics through apparent, unwanted advances on first-year law student J.S., including inappropriate touching, comments and voyeurism. 


LIEUTENANT GOVERNOR


 Lt. Gov. Jon Husted and Second Lady Tina Husted have announced the birth of their first grandchild. Baby girl Margaret Ann Husted was born to their son, Alex, and daughter-in-law, Kathleen, on Saturday, Dec. 30 in Columbus. Baby Margaret weighed in at seven pounds and six ounces at birth. 


MARIJUANA/HEMP 


Marijuana edibles with defective packaging have been sold at dispensaries across the state, according to a patient advisory issued by the Ohio Medical Marijuana Control Program (MMCP). MMCP received a report from processor BeneLeaves Limited that dispensaries discovered that the tamper-evident seal required on all medical marijuana packaging is defective on several packages for Smokiez Sweet Tropical Fruit Gummies (Sativa). The advisory applies to products purchased between Sept. 15, 2023 and Dec. 27, 2023.


 NATURAL RESOURCES 


There are still camping spots available for experienced campers at many Ohio State Parks in the path of the total solar eclipse on Monday, April 8, 2024, according to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR). "Our state parks provide a beautiful backdrop to all sorts of fun outdoor activities," ODNR Director Mary Mertz said. "Our campers can get a great spot for the total eclipse along with some expert programming from our naturalists and fun activities all weekend long." ODNR is planning programming for the solar eclipse at state parks that includes science projects, astronomy-related lessons, and observations about the effect of the eclipse on wildlife. 


The ODNR Division of Mineral Resources Management (MRM) has proposed six projects for funding through the federal Abandoned Mine Land Economic Revitalization Program (AMLER). The projects are pending preliminary eligibility approval from the U.S. Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSMRE). ODNR said it is investing nearly $10 million in Athens, Jackson, Muskingum, Summit and Tuscarawas counties through projects to repair and improve a boat dock and create new trails and community improvement projects.


 Horizontal wells closed in the final months of 2023 with sideway numbers for fossil fuel production. Natural gas output managed a 2 percent increase in the third quarter -- down slightly from the first of the year -- while total barrels of oil fell nearly 6 percent over Q2 and less than 1 percent over Q1. Oil and gas "fracking" from 3,280 active wells produced 6.5 million barrels (bbls) in July-September, again losing ground to Ohio's historical high of 7.2 million bbls in 2019. 


ODNR is set to begin a tree clearing project at Buckeye Lake State Park along the Kirkersville feeder canal in early 2024. The project's goal is to improve the access, inspection capabilities, and overall stability of the embankment. Additionally, the project includes clearing locations ahead of installation of erosion control measures, particularly in areas prone to overtopping. 


Submissions for the next Ohio Wetlands Habitat Stamp competition will be accepted from Thursday, Feb. 1 through Thursday, Feb. 15, 2024. The winner of the competition will have their work featured on the 2025 Ohio Wetlands Habitat Stamp and receive a service contract of $4,000. The winning entry will feature a qualifying species of Ohio waterfowl. For contest rules, including a list of qualifying species, read the Ohio Wildlife Wetlands Stamp Design Contest Rules and Artist Packet at http://tinyurl.com/593d35t4 . 


PUBLIC SAFETY 


The Ohio State Highway Patrol (OSHP) leads all local and state jurisdictions in the latest round of federal grants from the Ohio Traffic Safety Office (OTSO), which has released more than $23 million to reduce auto fatalities and improve overall traffic safety. Of that, more than $13 million will support statewide programs, including 12 separate awards totaling $9.5 million to OSHP. 


The OSHP reported six fatal crashes and seven fatalities over the 2023-24 New Year's holiday, with seat belt neglect linked to five deaths. That compares to 13 fatalities in 2022-23, 12 in 2021-22, and 14 in 2020-21. This year's four-day reporting period began midnight Friday, Dec. 29 and concluded 11:59 p.m. Monday, Jan. 1. In total, troopers made 3,259 traffic contacts, including 409 seat belt tickets, 272 OVI arrests and 106 distracted driving citations.


 Ohio is approaching 30,000 peace officers employed by state-certified law enforcement agencies with Thursday's addition of Cross Creek Township Police (Jefferson County) and Fairview Park (Cuyahoga County) police to those signing onto standards issued by Ohio's Community-Police Collaborative Advisory Board. They bring Ohio's certified officer count to 29,537, or 88.02 percent of all peace officers in Ohio. 


STATE GOVERNMENT


 Ohio lawmakers and Attorney General Dave Yost were among those hit with hoax emergency calls meant to draw a strong police response over the holiday break. The hoax calls, often known as "swatting," seek to get police to respond to a location with emergency response and SWAT teams using reports such as an armed individual or a mass shooting. According to media reports, a number of Republican officials across the country were targeted by recent incidents. In Ohio, officials who were targeted included Reps. Kevin Miller (R-Newark) and Haraz Ghanbari (R-Perrysburg), as well as Yost.


 With 37 state legislatures reconvening in January and at least 45 coming into session at some point in 2024, many will be focused on more pressing issues such as artificial intelligence and housing and less on some of the hot-button social issues that dominated the headlines in 2023, according to National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) CEO Tim Storey. Storey and NCSL staff spoke with legislative leaders and top committee chairmen in state legislatures around the country to get a sense of the major issues state lawmakers will be tackling. On a conference call with reporters, Storey said the number one issue continues to be state budgets. He said states remain in good shape in terms of their fiscal policies. Rainy Day Funds have been replenished in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and are at or near record levels. However, he said, there are warning signs that there may be some weakness in the economy moving forward. California recently projected "substantially lower tax revenue,” he noted, but overall states are in a good position to weather whatever the economy throws at it. 


Ohio Facilities Construction Commission (OFCC) Executive Director Cheryl Lyman reported over $3.8 billion in project activity for FY24 as of October. This includes 90 projects in design and 286 in construction, the vast majority of which are K-12 schools and state agencies. OFCC is the agency responsible for overseeing state-funded capital projects as well as state-supported construction and renovation projects at schools. 


TECHNOLOGY/AEROSPACE 


Lt. Gov. Jon Husted recently announced students can now enroll in the High School Tech Internship program, which provides them with valuable work experience while helping businesses find needed talent. In 2023, 510 students participated in internships with 141 employers as part of the program. Enrollment requires school districts or individual students to contact their regional intermediary to be connected with a hosting business. The intermediaries include Junior Achievement of Northwestern Ohio; Youth Opportunities Unlimited (YOU) in the northeastern region; the Educational Service Center of Central Ohio; the Strategic Ohio Council for Higher Education (SOCHE) in the western region; the INTERalliance of Greater Cincinnati; and Building Bridges to Careers located in Southeast Ohio.


TRANSPORTATION/INFRASTRUCTURE 


Ohio drivers in 2024 may occasionally think to themselves that they are LATE ASF, but they won't be able to display the sentiment on their license plates. That is one of over 800 combinations of both letters and numbers that the Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles (BMV) nixed as a request for personalized plates for 2023, perhaps soliciting another 1HATEU, IH8P3PL or THS 1S BS from the drivers who requested those particular plates. The Ohio BMV issues hundreds of thousands of personalized plates in a given year, with over 387,000 issued in 2021.


 WORKERS’ COMPENSATION 


Ohio's public employers will pay nearly $8 million less in workers' compensation insurance premiums to the Ohio Bureau of Workers' Compensation (BWC) in 2024 thanks to a rate cut that went into effect Monday, Jan. 1, 2024. According to BWC, "This 3.9 percent rate reduction was made possible by declining injury claims and relatively low medical inflation costs by Ohio's counties, cities, public schools, and other public taxing districts."


 







[Story originally published in The Hannah Report. Copyright 2023 Hannah News Service, Inc.]


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